The Ins & Outs of Law Firm Mismanagement
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Summary

Via memos, speeches, and committee meetings, this volume introduces the mythically inept firm of Fairweather, Winters & Sommers through the eyes of the firm's non-lawyerssecretaries, paralegals, the computer geekall of whom know better than anyone else how ridiculous lawyers can be.
Published: Catbird Press an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9781936053582
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Conclusion

Introduction

ME AGAIN. Y’know, I never expected to get into the business of writing books about my law firm. Not that I’m not a gifted writer. In candor, I am. No Garcia Márquez, perhaps. But then he never had to survive the critiques of a pride of law school professors.

Not long ago, my publisher said to me, Stanley (we’re on a first-name basis, now), we’ve heard a lot about your firm’s committees, but not much about the rest of the firm, how you get your work through the pipeline, out the door, through the fax machine, into commerce. Honesty compelled me to admit he had a point.

So we began knocking about ideas: he serving one up, me slicing it back. Me lobbing one over his head, he racing back to retrieve it. He dropping one short, me skidding to a stop as I reached it. Me going deep to the corner, he coming to the net. Pretty soon the possibility struck us that we might be playing tennis, not talking about a new book.

We sheathed our racquets and gave it another go. At first my publisher insisted on my writing the entire book. Stanley, he pressed on me, it’s you who know most about the firm, how you get your work through the pipeline, out the door, through …

Yes, I admitted, but others have important perspectives, as well. They’ve gained firsthand experience with both the nitty and the gritty of getting things through, out, into, over and between.

I suppose you’re right, he mused. But experience is an inefficient teacher. Maybe we can shortcut that process by asking some of your people to reveal the tricks of the trade as they’ve come to learn them.

Hold it, let’s not get carried away here. We don’t want to promise readers something that useful. We haven’t learned the tricks of the trade ourselves yet. But I’ll bet people would love to hear the inside dope about lawyers from the folks who know them best. That much we could deliver.

Capital idea, Old Sport, my publisher blurted, suddenly affecting a rather inexplicable British air. So, here we go.

Neither Rain Nor Sleet Nor Lawyers

By Harry Lopes

MAYBE I should introduce myself. I’m Harry Lopes, but everyone at the firm calls me Hurry. That’s because I’m always in one. A hurry that is. And I’m always pushing my corps to hurry, too. Hurry along now, I’ll tell them as I send them off on this or that mission.

We in the mailroom call each job we do a mission. That was my idea. Missions give people a sense of purpose. I think it all goes back to my days in Nam. When we went out into the field, we didn’t go to do a job, we went out on a mission. Religious folks talk about that too, missions. Maybe it seems odd to you, people in our mailroom being out on missions. But everyone needs a sense of purpose in what they’re doing, maybe especially people who aren’t doing such high-falutin’ stuff as our lawyers.

Anyway, I’ve been around our mailroom for a good long time now, so I’ve got plenty of good stories. Like the time some of our senior partners just about ransacked the mailroom. What happened was this.

Lots of clients write in to the firm every year to try to get their kids and relatives who are in law school hired by our firm. I guess each of ‘em must think they’re the only one with a kid in law school. Anyway, all of those letters were (at the time of this story I’m telling) sent to Otto Flack for him to answer, since he was the hiring partner. By the end of a hiring season, Mr. Flack got pretty tired of answering those letters. One day Mr. Oscar Winters got a copy of one of Otto’s letters that read:

February 24, 1978

Ms. Shiela Kagan Grail

4200 N. Marine Drive

Chicago, Illinois 60604

Dear Ms. Grail:

Thank you very much for your letter of February 22 to my partner Oscar Winters.

As I understand Mr. Winters has already told you, we hire very few first-year law students. This is especially true of students from a lower rank law school such as yours. In candor, I should tell you that we rarely consider hiring second- or third-year students from your law school. In any case, we have completed all of our first-year hiring for this year.

Since you are the daughter of the executive vice-president of a pretty hefty client of ours, however, I’d be happy to spend some time talking with you about next year. My candid advice to you, however, is, if at all possible, try to transfer to Northwestern or Chicago.

I note from your resume that you speak Spanish. Muy bien (I speak a little myself). Frankly, however, that is of little use to us since all of our clients speak English (most of them quite fluently).

But, seriously now, I will look forward to hearing from you and seeing you next year.

With kindest regards, I remain

Yours sincerely,

FAIRWEATHER, WINTERS & SOMMERS

By: Otto M. Flack

cc: Mr. Oscar Winters

Now, Otto wasn’t around the office when Mr. Winters got his copy of the letter, so Mr. Winters showed the letter to several of his partners. They all got pretty upset about the letter and came on down to the mailroom to try to find the original before it went out. Well, I’d never seen Mr. Winters or any of those other important partners down in the mailroom before, and especially not sorting through all of those envelopes in such a state of excitement. There was a fair amount of nasty language pronounced during all this, as I recall. One of the partners suggested that they’d better call Ms. Grail and make her an offer of employment right away.

After watching them for quite awhile, I asked them what they were looking for and Mr. Winters showed me the letter to Ms. Grail. I read it and laughed pretty hard. That got them awfully upset, and they asked what was so darn funny (as I recall, the word they used was not darn). I told them that I was sure the letter was a joke, that Mr. Flack hadn’t sent the original. Well, it turned out I was right. And up until now I’ve honored Mr. Winters’ request to never tell anybody about this, ever. In any event, Mr. Flack ceased being hiring partner quite suddenly, later that week.

But that’s just one story about the things that go on in the mailroom. I could tell you many more, but I’d better get back to what we do, day to day—deal with the mail.

The mail isn’t what it used to be. Do you remember the days when getting mail was a big deal, an event almost? Now what do we get in the mail? It ranges from unimportant to junk. Anything important seems to be faxed or sent by courier service, these days.

Of course that makes a difference for us in the mailroom. Nobody gets too excited anymore about whether the morning or afternoon mail is half an hour late. On the other hand, when something arrives by Fed Ex, I tell my messengers that they’d darn well better get out on a delivery mission pronto, or their rear ends may be astroturf.

We have our own parallels in the inner-office mail. In fact, recently we’ve made some changes in our internal mail delivery system. These changes are laid out in the memo you can read below, which I sent to all lawyers:

To: All Lawyers

From: Hurry Lopes

Re: New Mail Delivery Rules

Effective immediately, we are going to be switching to five classes of inner-office mail delivery:

Book rate—in white envelopes. Delivery within two months, to the wrong office. No charge.

Regular—in yellow envelopes. Delivery will be guaranteed by 5 P.M. on the second business day. No charge.

Rush—in blue envelopes. Delivery within twenty-four hours if sent to somebody on the same floor as the sender, otherwise within thirty-six hours. No charge.

Protect-your-ass memos—in brown envelopes. Delivery within one business day, return receipt requested. Fee of $5.

Big rush—in green envelopes. Delivery within four hours. This will be handled by an outside courier service and the fee will vary from $10 on up, depending upon weight.

Immediate delivery—in red envelopes. Delivery within fifteen minutes. If it’s that darn important, drop it off yourself.

We believe that this new system will allow us in the mailroom to deliver the inner-office mail more efficiently. We will appreciate your cooperation.

Of course the Finance Committee was real pleased with our new policy. Less frequent delivery meant we could reduce the size of our messenger corps by one. Actually, we reduced it by two, because we let Old Sam go. We called Old Sam Old Sam because he was eighty-two years old.

The reason we were able to reduce the staff by two is that without Old Sam we didn’t really need Young Sam. Young Sam’s actual name was Jerry, but we called him Young Sam because his only job was to help Old Sam around. Old Sam was having a lot of trouble with his walking, and his eyesight was starting to go. Old Sam got a real nice retirement package from the firm. Yes, this firm may be getting hard-nosed financially, but one thing about it, it always takes care of its loyal Old Sams.

From time to time we’ve tried other ways to cut mailroom costs. A couple years ago, for instance, one of the partners got the notion that the firm was paying the postage on too many personal letters. At first the Executive Committee just circulated a memo reminding people that personal mail was not to be sent out at firm expense, but that didn’t seem to have too much effect. So then they announced that all mail must be sent down to the mailroom unlicked. (Boy, that shows you how long I’ve been around this place—unlicked. Yessir, we used to actually lick envelopes closed, by tongue. Didn’t care for hot, spicy foods much during that period. We had one fella who actually filed a workers’ comp claim; said his tongue kept stickin’ to the roof of his mouth. But there I go, off on another road altogether. Some folks say that’s why I have to hurry like I do, ‘cause I’m off on the wrong road so durn much.) But anyway, to handle that postage problem I was talkin’ about, the firm hired two people to read all of the outgoing mail to determine whether it should be franked at firm expense or stamped Return to Sender for Postage.

Naturally that created a few problems around this place. Several lawyers objected to what they claimed was an invasion of their privacy; some others said they were concerned about client confidentiality. Still others objected to the readers’ suggested corrections of their writing style and spelling. And some others pointed out that the cost of the readers was eighteen times what the firm was saving on personal postage.

None of those objections would have made a difference, though, since it was no longer cost that mattered. Cutting out personal postage had become a great big moral issue for the Executive Committee.

What killed the mail reader experiment in the end was the trouble they had in defining what was a personal letter, which stumped even the Ad Hoc Committee on Personal Letters. That committee came up with the following definition:

A personal letter shall mean any letter which: (a) contains more than 50% idle chit-chat, (b) begins with My Dearest or ends with Yours ‘Til Hell Freezes Over and All the Little Devils Go Ice Skating, (c) is addressed to Camp_____, (d) does not have a cc or bcc to anyone, or (e) does not begin with one of the following: I have yours of the ______, Enclosed herewith please find _____, We represent XYZ Corporation, or This letter will set forth our agreement with respect to …

Though most folks at the firm agreed that the Ad Hoc Committee had made a commendable attempt, several lawyers pointed out how the definition they’d come up with both failed to include all personal mail (since some lawyers wrote personal letters that met all conditions in the definition) and was overly restrictive (since, for example, Rex Gladhand signed more than half of his letters to clients Yours ‘Til Hell Freezes Over and All the Little Devils Go Ice Skating.) So, eventually the effort to cut down on personal letters at firm expense through hiring readers was dropped, but the readers were kept on for two more years, until finally somebody noticed that their reading of all firm mail no longer served any purpose.

Those of us in the mailroom continue to be smack-dab in the middle of important firm issues. The hottest battle right now is over the question of whether all internal firm mail delivered by our messenger corps should require a stamp bearing the likeness of Stanley J. Fairweather. Personally, I think that’s gonna happen. I told Stanley the other day that I thought he’d look real good on a stamp, and he said to me, Y’know, Hurry, I believe you’re right.

The Supply Side

IT’S NOT OFTEN that somebody from the Fairweather firm gets mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. And when that does happen, it’s usually one of our lawyers, in connection with a case the firm is handling. Last year, however, the Journal profiled our director of supplies, Edward Johnston. We reprint that profile below:

Royalty in the Legal Supply World

Ed Johnston’s Harvard Business School classmates don’t chuckle anymore at the nickname they pinned on him at their fifth reunion—The Prince of Legal Pads. In fact, for his tenth HBS reunion this year, Johnston has announced that he’s endowing a chair at his alma mater—to be known as the Ed Johnston Think-Small Chair of Entrepreneurship—at a cost to Johnston of $2 million.

Out of business school, Johnston had cast his lot with bulge-bracket investment bank Morgan Stanley. Investment banking was what was hot, so I headed in that direction. In retrospect, I should have known better. Whenever too many Harvard Business School graduates are going into an industry, you can be sure that industry is headed down the tubes.

Johnston rode the bull market, and in three years he was making what he describes as a fairly comfortable living in the low-to-mid six figures. When the market crashed in 1987, though, so did Johnston.

I spent eight or nine months out of work, Johnston recalls. At first, I looked only at jobs in the salary range and of the stature to which I had become accustomed. After a while, though, I began to get more realistic.

Johnston says that he was talking to Ellen Jane Ritton, an old college friend who had become a partner in the prestigious law firm of Fairweather, Winters & Sommers. Over drinks, Ellen Jane told Ed about the problem her firm was having in hiring competent and honest people to do some of the more routine jobs around the firm. For example, she told Ed, the firm recently had to fire its supply room head when it discovered